Gators back in Miami
Published: Sunday, January 26, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 25, 2003 at 11:14 p.m.
During the eight years Jerry "Red" Anderson sat tied to a desk, tucked away working in Gator Boosters, Florida's football recruiting presence in Miami nearly vanished.
"I wouldn't say Florida disappeared," long-time Miami Carol City coach Walt Frazier said. "But they came close. Very close. They'd send somebody down here every year, but they just didn't have much success.
"Miami is a place, like most places, where it's who you know. Red knew all of us down here because he'd coached against us and worked with us over the years. He was a big part of Miami-Dade County football and everyone knew him. He was a great presence down here. Once he left, it just wasn't the same."
No Red, no chance.
That pretty much became UF's recruiting mantra in Miami once Steve Spurrier bumped Anderson - a Miami native and former high school coach in Miami-Dade County - off his coaching staff at the end of the 1993 season.
The Gators became a virtual nonfactor in the nation's richest recruiting ground. During the eight years Anderson was schmoozing boosters instead of recruits, Florida managed to pluck only seven players out of Miami.
Seven. Seven players in eight years.
"Florida wasn't making its presence known down here," said Miami Southridge coach Mike Shapiro, who has been coaching in Miami-Dade for 34 years. "They seemed to almost give up."
The Gators are back now. Back in Miami. Back because Red Anderson is back.
When Ron Zook hired Anderson to be his defensive line coach the day he was announced as Florida's new coach last January, Zook had instantly made Florida a factor again in Miami-Dade County.
Anderson went right to work, traveling to Miami to reacquaint himself with his old coaching friends and start re-establishing the strong ties he, and Florida, once had in Miami-Dade County.
On national signing day, less than a month later, the results were rather astounding: The Gators signed four players from Miami (and would add a fifth a few months later). That's more than half the number of Miami-Dade prospects UF signed in the previous eight years combined.
"I assumed once Ron Zook hired Jerry Anderson that Florida was going to come back in here heavy," Frazier said. "And that's exactly what's happened. Jerry is a heck of a coach and he's always recruited here. We're happy to have him back.
"Coach Anderson is special. He knows this community and he knows the people in it - and he knows the caliber of athletes we have and the type of kids we have. And everyone knows him."
By putting Anderson back on the staff, Zook established the Gators would be taking a different approach to Miami than the one UF had slipped into over the eight previous years. Florida was going to recruit Dade hard, relentlessly, and establish a strong recruiting presence.
The Gators weren't going to back down from the hometown Hurricanes.
The early results have been encouraging.
After signing five Miami players a year ago (Northwestern linebacker Taurean Charles, Coral Gables defensive end Steven Harris, Washington defensive tackle MacKenzie Pierre and Southridge defensive backs and identical twins Tremaine and Jermaine McCollum), UF has actively scouted and recruited 24 prospects from Dade County over the past 11 months. Although the Gators have yet to get an oral commitment from any Miami prospects, they remain in the running for several.
"I'm not surprised," Frazier said. "Jerry Anderson is back in town."
Said Coral Gables coach Joe Montoya: "It's good to see Florida back down here."
It's been a while.
In the last eight years of the Spurrier era, without Anderson around to do the leg work in Miami-Dade, Florida was a minor player at best, rarely getting any of the top prospects away from Miami and Florida State.
If Miami was a recruiting priority, the Gators didn't show it.
Several high school coaches in Miami-Dade said Florida simply wasn't around very much.
"Rod Broadway and Bobby Stoops came down here over the years, but they didn't have much success and I didn't see them that often," Montoya said. "Florida basically didn't recruit here all the time."
Frazier, Shapiro and Montoya said they talked to Spurrier only once during the 12 years Spurrier was at Florida.
Montoya said he saw Spurrier at a coaching clinic once, but never met him face-to-face.
"I only talked to him once. That was two or three years ago when we had (All-American running back) Frank Gore," Montoya said. "About 30 minutes before the signing ceremony, Coach Spurrier called and tried to see if Frank might commit to Florida at that point. That's the only time I ever talked to him."
Gore signed with Miami, something many of the top prospects in Miami-Dade have done over the past decade, while UF has finished second or third or not even in the picture at all.
"It's almost criminal to let Miami just take them all," Montoya said. "If you're going to be a powerhouse, you can't allow that, you can't let that happen.
"Florida can come in here and compete with Miami for the top players. Absolutely."
That's the plan.
The Gators are back in Miami.
Anderson is there. So is Zook. So is new linebacker coach Bill Miller, the former UM defensive coordinator who has recruited Dade County for the past 13 years.
"I've talked with Coach Zook as many times or more in a short span than I have with any other head coach at Florida," Frazier said. "Coach Spurrier came in here once in 12 years. With Coach Zook and Coach Anderson, Florida is going to have much more of a presence down here and Florida's going to get some of the top kids."
Montoya said he was pleasantly surprised when he received an unexpected phone call from Zook this past December. It was not a recruiting call.
"He just called to tell me how the kid we sent there last year (Harris) was doing," Montoya said. "He told me Steven was doing a tremendous job and was going to be a heck of a player for Florida.
"The call came out of nowhere and I really appreciated it. Those are the kind of things you remember."
You can reach Robbie Andreu by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling (352) 374-5022.
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